What Does It Mean to Have Presence? Definition & Example

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Presence" by Amy Cuddy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you ever feel nervous in large crowds or on stage? What does it mean to have presence?

Amy Cuddy defines presence as a self-assured confidence that’s not arrogant but allows you to express your true self. Her book Presence says you can achieve presence by leveraging the body-mind connection to change the way you feel about yourself rather than worrying about how others perceive you.

Keep reading to learn what it means to embody presence.

What Is Presence?

What does it mean to have presence? According to Cuddy, “presence” is having faith in your abilities and feeling comfortable in your own skin, which naturally leads to an easy, confident mindset where you don’t overthink what you’re doing or get distracted by what might go wrong. She adds that when you embody presence, you exhibit agency over your self-expression (what Cuddy calls “personal power”). For example, if you have presence while giving a presentation, you can communicate clearly and confidently engage with the audience through your body language and speech.

(Shortform note: Cuddy’s definition of presence overlaps significantly with most people’s conception of confidence—feeling secure in your abilities—but it also seems to incorporate aspects of stage presence. Good stage presence goes beyond confidence because it also includes engaging your audience through your body language and movement as well as getting the audience to feel personally connected to your performance—themes that Cuddy describes in her advice for increasing your presence. Notably, her concept of having presence isn’t the same as being present, which means staying wholly focused on the here-and-now.) 

Cuddy explains that when you don’t have presence and instead feel anxious about a situation, you tend to project your negative feelings onto other people. For example, you think, “I’m not smart enough or talented enough to get this job” and then you assume that other people perceive you that way, too. 

This kind of self-doubt can spiral—you adopt a protective posture by hunching, for example, which gives off a negative, closed-off impression to others. You might start to panic, which inhibits clear thinking and lowers your performance despite your preparation. Or, if you overcompensate for your lack of confidence, others may perceive you as insincere or manipulative. Odds are, Cuddy argues, if you’re trying too hard to manage your persona, it’s likely to reinforce your initial anxiety and leave you fixating on how you could have done better. 

Avoiding Doom Spirals and Consequences of Overthinking

In Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz says that these self-doubt spirals are a result of using your imagination deconstructively, meaning you imagine bad things happening until they become automatic negative thoughts and feelings in difficult situations. 

To avoid these runaway negative thought cycles, and the hunched, closed-off body language that follows, Maltz says you can reprogram your mental self-image by visualizing yourself being successful until you’ve created a strong positive impression of yourself in your subconscious. Based on Cuddy’s analysis, this would then help you avoid overmanaging your image in the moment by focusing on preparation for the scenario and reducing your self-consciousness during the activity.

Psychologists also point out that while everyone overthinks and ruminates on negativity occasionally, it can contribute to the development of mental illness when taken to the extreme. Outside of the high-pressure contexts Cuddy refers to, it can also lead to interpersonal conflicts (particularly if you assume the worst in people), insomnia, and difficulty making decisions.
What Does It Mean to Have Presence? Definition & Example

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Amy Cuddy's "Presence" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Presence summary:

  • How to navigate social situations, interviews, performances, and more
  • The research behind power poses, and how to use them effectively
  • Body language you should avoid so others won't resent you

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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